By Dora Ochoa
The COVID-19 pandemic has been the cause of much tragedy, but it has also provided us an opportunity to rebuild the world and provide hope amid suffering and grief.
Twenty years ago, I traveled from Ecuador to the United States. My fervent desire to prosper led me to work in various areas, although my priority has always been social work. I never imagined that this path would lead me to create the Hanami Foundation. It is an international organization to help those in my community here in the United States and in my country of origin, Ecuador, which has also been hit hard by the pandemic.
The Hanami Foundation was founded from the ideal of proposing and executing programs and services aimed at economic and social inclusion with an emphasis on priority attention groups and vulnerable populations, promoting development and care. The foundation aligned with other organizations, such as the Federation of Pichincha, provides informative and educational events for the community.
The two organizations collaborated to hold the Hanami Awards 2019 first edition event, a gala honoring 15 community leaders for their outstanding work in New York. These awards recognized volunteerism and the leaders that they support in various areas.
The origin of the word “Hanami” comes from the Japanese tradition, which means “to celebrate the beauty of life and its transformation.” Hanami is governed by the principles of respect, solidarity, dignity, commitment, collaboration, honesty and transparency that represent the cherry blossoms that are important, the fragility of the human being and a way of rediscovering nature. It is something that undoubtedly coincides with the terrible time humanity is experiencing right now and how it has led us to rethink our existence in this world.
When the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic struck, I immediately became active and summoned volunteers to manage solidarity aid for people who have been left in critical situations due to the loss of their jobs and loved ones. Through social networks and other electronic means, I contacted people of good will who wanted to offer their support.
Friends, family and acquaintances were my first allies. There were 12 volunteers in New York and five in Loja, Ecuador who distribute food weekly to vulnerable people. By earlier this month, more than 2,000 food kits had been delivered.
It was not an easy task because I myself had to endure the COVID-19 contagion, although fortunately I overcame it. I regret the loss of human lives, especially close friends, who have inspired me to continue my humanitarian efforts.
However, the smile of a single mother, of workers who have lost their jobs, of people with disabilities, of mothers who struggle to feed their children are why my team and I believe in this gratifying work.
Hanami is preparing for the post-COVID era, as many experts say this could be a time of profound inequities. Hence, they have prepared projects in both the United States and Ecuador to respond to the tragedy with solidarity and determination. That is why we need all the help we can get, no matter how minimal it may be, because it will be well-received. Any donation will make a difference in many families here and in Ecuador.
The Hanami team believes wholeheartedly that if we keep working together for the good of mankind, we will have the opportunity to see the cherry blossoms again.
For more information or to donate food or personal hygiene items, call 914-334-0656. This number has also served to receive information regarding those who are in need of food and other basic needs. The number of inquiries has multiplied in recent weeks.
Dora Ochoa, a Peekskill resident, is director of the Hanami Foundation and the Pichincha Federation.